Inside Out and Back Again

Title: Inside Out and Back Again
Author: Thanhha Lai
Publisher: Harper, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-196279-0
Rating: 5/5 stars


  • Newberry Honor Book
  • National Book Award Winner

In a beautifully written poetic novel about a young girl and her family’s escape from Vietnam just after the war, Lai skillfully draws the reader into a piece of history.  Ha’s journey away from the impending Communist government in Vietnam is wrought with emotion, fitting for poetry.  With few words, she endures a period in time that readers today are learning in history classrooms around the country, generating a broader sense of understanding as they connect with the fictional main character, Ha.  Each short verse overflows with emotion, yet the lack of embellished words is especially effective as the character struggles with few words to communicate in her new country.  Although not illustrated, Lai creates beautiful pictures with words, describing in detail the smell of the country, the taste of the mango, the feeling of the stranger’s red hair.  She brilliantly uses many figures of speech to paint this picture, including the over-emphasis of the “s” sound as Ha learns to speak English.  Comparing the “s” sound with a snake brilliantly depicts the fear image that consumes so much of the new world for Ha’s family. This book will not only entertain but also educate students, generating compassion for those who have endured life as a refugee.

Review Excerpt: “In her not-to-be-missed debut, Lai evokes a distinct time and place and presents a complex, realistic heroine whom readers will recognize, even if they haven’t found themselves in a strange new country.” -Kirkus 

Connections: As it happens, one of our school employees was a refugee from Cambodia during the same time.  After reading this story with the middle school book club, students will create a list of questions and interview her about her experience.


“Inside Out and Back Again.” Kirkus Review January 8, 2011.

Lai, Thanhha. 2011. Inside Out and Back Again New York: Harper.


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